The sense of smell has been getting unaccustomed attention lately, thanks to COVID-19. Numerous reports show that losing the ability to smell can be an early symptom of infection with the novel coronavirus, usually before fever or cough. Around 15% of patients with milder forms of the disease complain of problems with smell or taste. However, most of these individuals regain the sense of smell within about three weeks of recovery from the coronavirus infection (Journal of Korean Medical Science, May 11, 2020). Sadly, people who have lost their sense of smell from other causes may have a more difficult time reversing this anosmia.
Can You Regain the Sense of Smell?
Q. One of your readers commented that taking MSM helped her hair growth. I bought the supplement and found, to my great surprise, that after six days of use (1 gram three times daily) my sense of smell returned. Please note that I have made no other change in my supplements and I take no medication.
Fifteen years ago, after my doctor prescribed calcitonin nasal spray for low bone density, I lost my ability to smell. No physician was able to help me regain the sense of smell and I had been told to “live with it.” Stopping calcitonin made no difference. I couldn’t smell anything, not even citrus. Now I can!
I haven’t found any studies supporting use of MSM for anosmia. As a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education, I tried searching in my university database as well as the Internet and found nothing. But I thought you would be interested in my report. (It’s too early to tell if MSM will help my hair grow.)
Drugs May Damage the Sense of Smell:
A. You are not the first person who has reported a loss of the sense of smell (anosmia) after using calcitonin nasal spray (see the Q&A below). Other medications may also damage this sense, including nasal sprays containing zinc or steroids such as fluticasone or budesonide. In addition, certain antibiotics such as penicillin, tetracycline or the fluoroquinolones could trigger this side effect. Occasionally, some blood pressure pills, including ACE inhibitors, ARBs and calcium channel blockers as well as diuretics may also cause problems (Family Practice Notebook).
MSM to Treat Anosmia:
Your discovery of a remedy, however, is intriguing. Anosmia is extremely hard to treat. We found no studies in the medical literature on using MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) to reverse it. Since this anti-inflammatory supplement is considered safe, however, we suspect others may want to try your experiment. If others regain the sense of smell by taking MSM, please let us know.
Olfactory training may help patients regain the sense of smell (Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery, Feb. 2017). Doctors have successfully used this approach with patients who suffered brain injury (Laryngoscope, Aug. 2019).
Another Reader Had Trouble with Calcitonin Harming the Sense of Smell:
Q. I took Miacalcin a few years ago, and ever since then my sense of smell has disappeared. That’s dangerous, since I can’t smell smoke or natural gas. It is also sad that I can’t smell bread baking or fresh peaches or any of those wonderful things.
It also affects my sense of taste. I can taste the basics of salty, sweet, hot and sour, but the great delight of good eating is gone. Once I was an excellent cook and even published a cookbook, but now that I can’t taste, I can’t season.
Could Miacalcin cause this loss? Has anyone else reported a similar side effect?
A. Doctors prescribe Miacalcin Nasal Spray (calcitonin) to treat osteoporosis and osteopenia. The official prescribing information notes problems with the senses of taste and smell. Unfortunately, when a drug affects the sense of smell, there is often little that can be done to reverse the problem. This side effect should be better publicized.